Monday, May 25, 2009

Lessons For Nepal

The decimation of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the victory of the Congress party in the recently held parliamentary elections in India were the news that surprised many both in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere. Mahinda Rajapaksa and Manmohan Singh have proved that the politics of ethnic chauvinism can be defeated, although the route these two men took was quite different. Rajapaksa resorted to military might whereas Singh adhered to greater economic reforms and pro-poor developmental policies. But again, the route they took also had to do with the level of threat ethnic chauvinism posed, in their respective countries. Rajapaksa faced violent ethnic fundamentalism whereas Singh was more exposed to bullying of coalition partners that flourished on ethnic and caste rhetoric.

Rajapaksa has proved that even the most sophisticated insurgency in the world can be decimated if there is a political will. There were countless occasions in the past 26 years of insurgency in Sri Lanka whereby Velupillai Prabhakaran could have gotten the state to fulfill genuine demands of minority Tamils. With time, more rights would have come Tamils’ way. It would have taken time but it would have eventually happened. But Prabhakaran’s hard-headedness and secessionist tendency has, in the end, left Tamils worse off. After 26 years of struggle and thousands of Tamils dead, LTTE got nothing, neither an independent state, nor the esteem of the civilized world.

While Sri Lanka has shown that appeasing the insurgents is not the only way to establish peace, India has shown to the world that the politics of ethnic chauvinism can be defeated through democratic means if the leadership in the country is visionary. Earnest and honest image does pay off in politics. Indian PM Singh is a living example. The recent election, in which, for the first time since 1962, a government that served its full five-year term has been re-elected under the same leadership, is a clear example of economic development taking over ethnic and identity politics in determining election outcomes. The recent election has also demonstrated, and demonstrated handsomely, that anti-incumbency can be beaten by delivering on the development front. Indian voters have rejected ethnic and caste politics. Finally, they have realized that identity-specific rhetoric, a process that they were told would empower them eventually had devolved into single-leader hegemony and blackmail politics, which neither empowered them, nor uplifted their socioeconomic status. India might have finally outgrown “Mandalism.”

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Manmohan Singh, Sheila Dikshit, Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar have provided us with examples that both hardcore ethnic fundamentalism and ethnic- and caste-based politics can be defeated.

Regional leaders such as Naveen Patnaik of Orissa and Nitish Kumar of Bihar have shown that you can remain relevant in politics without riding ethnic agendas. Their effort to promote good governance, improve law and order and bring about overall development has paid off handsomely. Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) which had won six seats in 2004 Lok Sabha election won 20 seats this time around. And, Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal won 14 seats, which is three seats more than 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Unlike in the past, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan were not able to fool Bihari voters with their caste-based rhetoric this time around.

While Lalu’s Rastriya Janata Dal had to contend with four seats compared to 22 in 2004 election, Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party failed to register a win. By making development and law and order as the major poll issue in the caste-ridden state, Nitish has proved that these are other ways of claiming relevance in politics.

Not a very long, the military solution to LTTE problem in Sri Lanka and the defeat of Lalu and Paswan in India were conceived as impossible. But as it appears now, nothing is impossible if there is a political will.

In a country likes ours whereby the president, who refuses to join populist ethnic bandwagon, is chided by the members of his own community; where a journalist is not only a journalist but also a member of civil society and covertly involved in politics; where a human right defender runs for the chairmanship of one of the largest political parties, conflict of interest will always remain as a major obstacle in effectively dealing with the elements that pose threat to law and order and stability of the country.

Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Manmohan Singh, Sheila Dikshit, Naveen Patnaik, and Nitish Kumar of India have provided us with examples that both hardcore ethnic fundamentalism and ethnic- and caste-based politics can be defeated. We may disagree with the approaches taken but it has been established that there are ways to deal if we really have to. The major question, however, is that, will Nepali politicians, who do not think beyond immediate political survival and who have mastered the art of operating outside the constitution with impunity, bother to learn from these examples? Had we learnt from the world history that appeasement of ideologically-indoctrinated demagogues does not establish peace and stability, we would not be where we are now.

For Nepal to come out of the current mess, which is partly self-created no matter how much political elite of the country try to escape from sharing the blame, there has to be a consensus on crucial but contentious issues such as designing the federal structure, land redistribution and ways to ensure ethnic empowerment. Plus, there has to be a sincere effort towards strengthening existing institutions and maintain law and order in the country, in the absence of which, politicians will keep on playing on either sides of the fence and mushroomed insurgent groups will keep on holding the communities across the country hostage.

But before all that can happen, a million-dollar question that arises now is: Will Madhav Kumar Nepal be able to bring a much stronger Dahal – whose party now is the largest in the parliament, has thousands of militiamen in UN-monitored cantonments and almost a 100 thousand strong paramilitary group (YCL) that can operate with impunity – under the framework aimed at strengthening multi-party democracy? It is a tall order. But again, anything is possible. Who had thought that LTTE could be decimated and Lalu and Paswan could be defeated?


abcde said...

This is a very nice article. As you showed there are numerous lessons for Nepal, but the catch is we need to learn from them. I hope our leaders get this before it is too late. Thanks for sharing the article.

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